Gun debate returns to Virginia capitol

Virginia’s battle over gun violence picks up again in Richmond Monday and Tuesday, as the group that Republicans have designated to consider all of the measures proposed during a special session meets to discuss the issues.

The 13-member Virginia State Crime Commission will hear presentations throughout the day Monday. The presentations are on federal gun laws, gun sales and gun deaths and injuries, mass shootings from 2018, media coverage of mass shootings, policies related to gun homicides and an anti-gang effort.

Additional presentations are also scheduled Tuesday afternoon, followed by a limited three-hour public comment period and presentations from lawmakers who had introduced bills during the July 9 special session on gun violence.

These bills were referred to the crime commission by GOP leaders in the General Assembly after abruptly adjourning the floor sessions less than two hours after they began. Gov. Ralph Northam called the special session in the wake of May’s mass shooting in Virginia Beach.

For years, many bills proposing gun restrictions of any kind have been quietly killed in the House of Delegates, including a number of the bills proposed again in the special session.

Since the El Paso, Texas, shooting and President Donald Trump’s apparent support for “red flag” laws, several Virginia Republican lawmakers in tight races for reelection have expressed potential support for a measure like that.

Before that Republican General Assembly leaders backed strengthening penalties for existing gun-related crimes and more recently suggested a focus on gang interventions.

“Red flag” laws would give law enforcement authority to temporarily remove guns from individuals who pose a threat.

The crime commission does not have to make recommendations on any of the proposals this week, but it could suggest certain bills get further consideration when lawmakers return to continue the special session after Election Day.

The commission can also suggest that certain bills be considered in next year’s regular session or other bills be scuttled. And it could simply retain the bills for further study.

Lawmakers are not scheduled to resume the special session until Nov. 18, two weeks after elections, which will determine control of the House and Senate. Any new members will not be sworn in until January.

Who’s on the commission?

Sen. Mark Obenshain is the commission’s chairman and Del. Rob Bell its vice chairman. Both are Republicans who have generally opposed new restrictions on guns. However, the commission is bipartisan.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, Del. Les Adams and Del. Chris Collins are the other Republican members of the commission.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring, Del. Paul Krizek and Sen. Janet Howell are the Democrats on the commission, each has spoken in support of various gun control or related bills.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Hudson represents the attorney general’s office on the commission.

The three other members are appointed by Northam: Henrico County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Mansi Shah; Lunenburg County Sheriff Arthur Townsend; and Virginia Commonwealth University Associate Vice President of Public Safety John Venuti.

The commission is scheduled to meet in the General Assembly office building across the street from the state capitol from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Monday and from noon to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The Tuesday session is in the afternoon because of a separate, previously scheduled meeting of the House and Senate money committees in the morning, where Northam and Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne are scheduled to present updates on tax revenues and the budget.

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